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Automated Driving 3 min read

5 things you (probably) didn’t know about automated driving levels

A man smiles as he drives his car.

When it comes to the future of travel, self-driving tech is steering the conversation. But beyond the buzz, how much do you truly know about the different levels of autonomous vehicles??

The term automated driving has become synonymous with self-driving cars. But in reality, it encompasses a wide range of technologies and capabilities. 

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has established six SAE Levels of Driving AutomationTM, ranging from Level 0 (no automation) to Level 5 (full automation). Each level represents a different degree of control over the vehicle, from basic driver assistance features to fully autonomous operation.


Higher levels of automation, as defined by SAE International, are now possible.


Keeping it low-key

Despite the hype around autopilots and artificial intelligence (AI), most of the cars driven worldwide require a human at the helm for all navigational tasks. Although the latest developments might suggest we’re at Level 2, according to market analysis, fewer than 10% of cars currently use higher than Level 1 automation technologies —painting a very different picture from the supposed takeover by self-driving cars.

Safety first

As AI capabilities continue to improve and regulations catch up, we can expect to see more and more vehicles reaching higher levels of automation. The current global autonomous market is nearly US$2 billion. However, by 2030 it is expected to grow to just over US$13.5 billion. That’s nearly a sevenfold increase in six years.

One of the main driving factors behind the development of automated driving is safety. It’s estimated that around 1.35 million people die each year in road crashes, with human error being a major contributing factor. With advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and fully autonomous technology, many believe that these numbers can drastically decrease.

Mercedes Benz EQE on highway using Drive Pilot

Original ADAS

It might seem like ADAS is a relatively new technology, but that's not quite true. The first adaptive cruise control system was introduced by Mercedes-Benz in 1999, setting the stage for today’s advanced driver assistance systems. 

By the early 2000s, automakers began incorporating additional ADAS features like lane-keeping assist, automatic emergency braking and blind-spot detection. These evolved into more sophisticated systems, such as traffic sign recognition and driver monitoring, further augmenting the vehicle's ability to assist the driver.

A car travels on a mountainous road.

Leveling up 

While the technology for fully autonomous vehicles may be rapidly advancing, the infrastructure needed to support it is still in its early stages. For example, road markings and signs need to be standardized and easily identifiable by AI systems. Additionally, roads must be equipped with advanced sensors and communication systems to allow for safe interaction between autonomous vehicles and other road users.

The next stages will heavily rely on vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication, which allows cars to communicate with each other and infrastructure to improve safety and traffic management. This technology is expected to become more prevalent as we move toward higher levels of automation.

Critical cornerstone 

As smart vehicles have become more dependable and intertwined with our everyday lives, cybersecurity has emerged as a fundamental concern. Hackers pose a real threat to the automation levels that have evolved so far. To address these concerns, experts are working on security solutions that can protect autonomous cars from hacking attempts and unauthorized access.

Caroline Christie

Caroline Christie


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